By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
The band basically stuck to radio hits and some CBGB favorites, with "Shayla" and "Union City Blue" being the surprise selections. Harry's voice soared heavenly through both as if she were lifting the song's characters out of their blue- collar factory worlds and into power, passion. But where the New Wave Queen Bee really ruled was in songs like "Rip Her to Shreds" and "One Way or Another," where her deeper, wiser lower register added grit and sassiness. Her tenure with the Jazz Passengers paid off with "In the Flesh" and the new album No Exit's film noirish "Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room," which went from new wave to no wave when a gold laméjacketed James Chance joined them on saxophone. In a bizarre colliding of worlds, imagine Chance on VH-1, which was taping the concert. ("James Chance never won a Grammy but he certainly stirred things up in the Village!")
This dynamic played itself out in the crowd as well. Headsets, clipboards, and laminates mingled with soccer moms, office clerks, pink-haired drag queens, New York dollbabies, and new wavers with old buttons: "Blondie is a band." One woman in the audience did a T-shirt striptease, starting with the "No Exit" shirt and ending with AbFab's Patsy, which proves that all things fabulous lead back to Blondie. Sara Sherr
Wait, Wait . . . Now!
Mogwai have never been tunesmiths, exactly, but judging from their preview of their forthcoming album Come On, Die Young last Monday night at Bowery Ballroom, they've all but shed the idea of the pop song. Only one piece involved singing, and most of them didn't attach any other kind of hook to their tourniquet-tight pacing and dynamics just an articulated chord or two, or a repeating, mutating spiderweb pattern. The obvious model was Slint, a lot of whose virtues they've borrowed: patience, spaciousness, and a micro-control of rhythms that gives them extra bite. Without some kind of melodic point hurrying Mogwai up, though, they tended to ramble. It's nice that young people are interested in the scope of old prog, but God! do we really need to hear flute solos?
Purity of intent and execution is what gives Mogwai a lot of their power, though they're getting so pure that the new stuff is sometimes arid. Even when they crank up the volume, they usually keep pivoting around the same old drone. And their approaches to their ideal can get kind of hard to tell apart: "Christmas Steps" is the one where the loud part starts with the bass; "May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door" is the one where the loud part isn't all that loud. "Like Herod," the one where the loud parts are really loud, has become as much of a routine for them as, for instance, "Blue Line Swinger" is for Yo La Tengo. It's been in their set longer than anything else: crawling along note-by-note at whispering volume for five or 10 minutes until the audience is leaning forward for every brush of a string or cymbal, then snapping into an unexpected furnace-blast that pastes them to the back wall twice. That's the theory, anyway, though longtime fans can count in the kaboom by now. Still, by the time Mogwai segued into their closing cover of the old indie-rock standard "Six Minutes of Feedback," the exhaustion of waiting had turned into the exhaustion that follows a happy shock. Douglas Wolk
Carrying Two Babies
Aiha Higurashi, singer and guitarist for Tokyo's Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, is four months pregnant, but she performed Saturday night at a Mercury Lounge smoky enough to toxify my blue jeans. Rockers can't always be choosers, and with no American record deal yet and the South by Southwest music convention coming up, the band needed to show its wares. Higurashi got her doctor's permission so long as she spaced the gigs and went home immediately after each set.
In Japan, SSKHKH record for Trattoria, Cornelius's label, and sell about 15,000 records each time out. While Higurashi has dabbled in hiphop and loungey flourishes her single "Pink Soda" begins as a finger-snapping "Fever" variant she's an art-punk at heart, for whom the ringing power chords of the Mekons' "Where Were You" are manna from heaven, a gift she returns on sugar rushes like "Angel," "Sweet Home," and "Down to Mexico." Since U.S. hipsters find the sound outdated, thank God it's a big world. (PS: The Boredoms have just done a superlong freebopping of "Where Were You" now give, skeptics.)
Sometimes called Japan's PJ Harvey, Higurashi doesn't tap an equivalent rage: even singing, "I cut myself into very little pieces," she kept an ingratiating grin. But the tension between politeness and outburst, especially sexual release, gives her punk a distinct form; one number begins, "I woke up screaming/I know it's already morning/I make a cup of coffee/I know he's already gone/I drink the cup of coffee." And a previous year and a half in New York has removed most of the typical Japanese cutesy pidgin from her English. Scattered over the inconsistent two albums and three EPs I've heard is more than enough for an eye- opening U.S. long player. There's an artist coming to term here. Eric Weisbard